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SERAP drags FG, Cameroon to African Commission over illegal return of refugees, asylum seekers

EFE AGHALOKPE

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights requesting “the urgent intervention of the Bureau of the Commission to end the ongoing human rights violations of naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers forcibly returned to their country by the Nigerian authorities.”

The organization urged the Chairperson and Bureau of the Commission “to urgently hold an extra-ordinary session of the African Commission to address the illegal and unfair return of 51 Cameroon refugees, asylum seekers and naturalized Nigerians, and the continuing violations of the rights of the returnees by the government of Cameroon.”

The organization also urged the Commission to “speak out strongly and condemn the unfair treatment of the refugees, asylum seekers and naturalized Nigerians by the government of Cameroon, and request the government to immediately release them from unlawful detention.”

The petition, dated 2 February 2018 and signed by SERAP’s deputy director, Timothy Adewale, stated: “International law is very clear on the fact that individuals, including asylum seekers, even if they have entered the country illegally, are entitled to enjoy human rights. SERAP is seriously concerned that forced return of naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers is both legally and morally wrong, and would set a bad precedent for the rest of the sub-region.”

The organization said that, “Naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers came to Nigeria for protection and to escape the gross violations of fundamental human rights in Cameroon. By returning them to Cameroon, Nigerian authorities have failed to provide reasonable opportunity to them to establish their case through judicial review of the risk of persecution, torture and other human rights abuses in Cameroon.”

The petition read in part: “The government of Cameroon is also reportedly violating the rights of returned naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers to personal liberty, freedom of movement (including the right to leave their country), fair trials, freedom of expression and depriving them of their liberty to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. The situation in Cameroon is characterized by widespread and massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law with growing numbers of victims lacking access to an effective remedy.”

“Cameroon’s treatment of the returned naturalised Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers falls with the ‘worst crimes’ of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which in article 7 defines crimes against humanity to mean acts such as deportation, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture and other similar acts that are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”

“Both Nigeria and Cameroon do not have any extradition treaty. We consider the forced return of Cameroon asylum seekers from Nigeria illegal and unfair, as it failed to meet a high standard of procedural fairness and justice. Both Nigeria and Cameroon have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.”

“According to our information, the Nigerian authorities illegally and unfairly returned naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers on Friday, January 26, 2018. The returnees are mostly leaders of the people of Southern Cameroon and who have been living in Nigeria for several years.”

“SERAP argues that the government of Nigeria breaches its international obligations including those requiring the government to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are not returned to jurisdictions such as Cameroon, where they would face persecution and human rights violations, such as torture and other ill-treatment. Nigeria is also bound by the principle of non-refoulement, the obligation not to return a refugee to a country where he is at risk of persecution.”

“Similarly, both Nigeria and Cameroon are states parties to the UN Convention against Torture which in article 3 provides that no State Party shall return, refoul or extradite a person to another State where there are grounds for believing that that person would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

“SERAP also notes that asylum or in other words the possibility for an individual to seek refuge is recognised in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “a fundamental human right.” The Declaration guarantees the right to life, liberty and security, to equal protection of the law and the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. As such, the Nigerian authorities should have afforded the naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers their basic human rights including the right to a fair trial.”

“Article 5 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, which prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by been interpreted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as including a prohibition of returning a person to a country where he or she would face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

SERAP therefore urged the Chairperson and Bureau of the African Commission to: ‘’Urgently hold an extra-ordinary session of the African Commission to address the illegal and unfair return of 52 naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers, and the continuing violations of the rights of the returnees by the government of Cameroon.

“Publicly condemn Nigeria’s forced return of the 52 naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers to Cameroon without any consideration whatsoever of their claims for protection, and thereby putting them at serious risk of persecution in their country.

“Hold Nigeria and Cameroon to account for violating the rights of the 52 naturalized Nigerians, refugees’ and asylum seekers’ rights to freedom from torture and other human rights.

“Make an official visit to Cameroon with special rapporteurs having relevant mandates and to put pressure on the authorities to release the returnees from unlawful detention and end the politically motivated trial of naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers.

“Hold that the continuing detention, mistreatment and unfair trial of the returned naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers by the government of Cameroon amount to cruel and degrading treatment and in conflict with the country’s human rights obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Ask the government of Nigeria to seek the guarantee of government of Cameroon about the safety of the returnees, and that they would afford the returnees fair trial while they remain in the country.

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